The University of Central Arkansas men’s basketball team have their bear claws up, and are ready to take on one of the most prestigious college basketball programs in history this year.

On November 12, the UCA Bears will travel to Durham, NC to play against Coach “K” and the Duke University Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils are ranked number 3 in NBC Sports’ pre-season rankings, and number 4 in ESPN’s.

This will be the first time the Bears have played against the Blue Devils, but not their first against historic competition. Over the past decade, Central Arkansas has played Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA, and Michigan, just to name a few.

Bears’ Head Coach Russ Pennell relishes these challenges.

One of the things we try to do,” Coach Pennell says. “[Is] we try to play in places our guys are going to remember. And I think we’ve done that over the course of the five years I’ve been here. And now this is probably the top of the mountain.”

Pennell went on to say that, although some make think that it is “foolish” to partake in such a venture, “the experience of playing in Cameron Indoor against one of the storied programs in college basketball is something our players will be able to hold onto the rest of their lives, regardless of the outcome.”

And Duke is not the only momentous challenge that awaits the Bears next season. In fact, three of their first four games are versus opponents with national clout.

On November 5, the Bears will travel to Waco, Texas for a battle with Baylor University. November 9 features a trip to the nation’s capital to vie against Georgetown University. Three days after that, the Bears will be meeting up with Duke.

Another notable game on the Bears’ non-conference schedule is a December 28 trip to Milwaukee, Wisc. to play Marquette University, a matchup that will be closer to home than would seem on a map. Marquette’s roster features one of the best players in the country, 2019 Big East Player of the Year, Markus Howard. Markus is the younger brother of the most decorated player in UCA history, Jordan Howard, who broke the school record for points scored and three-pointers made during his time at UCA. Jordan also holds the record for most three-pointers made in Southland Conference history.

The Bears will also challenge Wichita State, the University of Utah, and Pepperdine University this upcoming season.

“Our schedule this year is difficult,” Coach Pennell says. “It’s very difficult, no doubt about it. And I’ve had coaches, in our own league, say, ‘why do you play that tough of a schedule?’ We do it to challenge our guys and to give them an unbelievable experience of playing at some of the most famous venues in the country against some of the most storied programs in college basketball. I think the big thing for us is just embracing the challenges.”

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Quotes courtesy of UCA Sports.